Anti-this war now, and most (but not all) wars most of the time
Since Daniel at CT has identified me as abandoning the “Anti-this war now” viewpoint, and since I’m increasingly in agreement with Jim Henley’s Anti-Most Wars Most of the Time position, I thought I’d try to restate my version of ATWN as it applies to Iraq. I haven’t managed to work it all out, so as with Daniel I’d be grateful for suggestions.
My claim to be part of the ATWN camp is that that in the circumstances of 2002, I thought it was reasonable to support Resolution 1441, threatening war if Saddam did not accept renewed open weapons inspections. Even at this point, however, the issues of leadership and competence come up. I assumed that Blair, at least, was genuine in seeking to present Saddam with an ultimatum, and not merely seeking a legal pretext for a war around which “policy had already been fixed”. So, while I had little faith in Bush, I overestimated the honesty of the whole process on the basis that Blair was involved. In this context, dishonesty and incompetence are highly correlated, since it’s impossible to keep your own assessment of the facts insulated from the lies disseminated to the public.
An important part of my thinking, as regards democratic intervention is that it requires a specific, legally defensible objective, rather than multiple rationales. So, as soon as it became clear, in late 2002 and early 2003, that the WMD case didnâ€™t stand up, I opposed the war, and took the view that, if another case was to be made, the whole process had to be restarted.
Suppose that Saddam had refused to accept Resolution 1441, and that the leaders of the US and UK were honest and competent. Would the disaster we have seen been inevitable anyway? I don’t think so. The war would have been authorised by an explicit resolution of the UN Security Council, and it would have been reasonable to hope for a substantial peacekeeping force ideally with a substantial Muslim component, as well as a much larger European contribution. Disasters like the Coalition Provisional Administration, and the US attack on Sadr (recognisable in retrospect as the opening battle of the Iraq Civil War) would never have taken place.
So I think that a war in these circumstances would have had a fair chance of producing a decent outcome in Iraq. And of course in this counterfactual, Saddam would have had weapons he was unwilling to abandon, and might at some point have passed to terrorists, making the self-defence justification for the war much more clear-cut.
Of course, this is all hypothetical, and to some extent so is Daniel’s question about democratic intervention. Regardless of its abstract merits, the idea has been killed, for the foreseeable future, by the disaster in Iraq. More generally, Iraq has taught me at least to be more critical and sceptical about all arguments for war (including violent revolution). I hope though, that we don’t abandon the idea of humanitarian intervention as well, even if we are more careful about it. Perhaps there are no good options in, for example, Darfur, but I still think the world could be doing more and doing it better than at present.